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UK taxes energy firms to cut home bills

The United Kingdom has announced a 25 per cent windfall tax on oil and gas producers’ profits alongside a 15 billion pound ($A27 billion) package of support for households struggling to meet soaring energy bills.

The move, which will give each UK household a 400 pound discount on their energy bill and more for lowest-income households, marks a change of heart for Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government which had previously resisted windfall taxes, calling them a deterrent to investment.

It is the second emergency policy intervention to help with rising bills this year.

Facing intense political pressure to provide more support for billpayers coping with what political opponents and campaigners have called a cost-of-living crisis, finance minister Rishi Sunak said energy firms were making extraordinary profits while Britons struggled.

“We will introduce a temporary and targeted energy profits levy but we have built into the new levy a new investment allowance that means companies will have a new and significant incentive to reinvest their profits,” Sunak told parliament.

“The more a company invests, the less tax they will pay.”

Sunak did not refer to it as a windfall tax.

He said it would raise five billion pounds in the next 12 months and be phased out as oil and gas prices return to normal.

He did not set out how the rest of the package would be funded.

He also said there would be a new Investment Allowance that would nearly double the tax relief available for firms on their investments.

On Tuesday the UK energy regulator said that a cap on gas and electricity bills was set to rise by another 40 per cent in October, caused by a surge in global energy prices.

Other European governments have also ploughed tens of billions of euros into measures to help mitigate energy prices.

Shares in Harbour Energy, the biggest UK North Sea oil and gas producer, turned negative after Sunak’s announcement but retraced their losses swiftly.

British North Sea focused oil firm EnQuest’s shares were down 3.8 per cent at midday, their biggest daily drop in over two weeks and well below an index of European oil and gas firms rising 0.7 per cent.

Shares in oil majors BP and Shell, which are global companies and so less affected by UK policy, touched session lows after the announcement but recovered and were up about 0.9 per cent.

The package of support was worth 15 billion pounds, Sunak said.

A similar support package in February was worth 9 billion pounds and Sunak said the government was overall providing 37 billion pounds to help consumers.

It included cash payments to about a third of British homes, including 650 pounds to eight million low-income households.

It also doubled a previously promised 200 pound discount on energy bills and scrapped a requirement to repay it.

The announcement also comes at a time when Johnson is keen to move the conversation away from a damning report detailing a series of illegal lockdown parties at his Downing Street office.

Labour, which had been campaigning hard for a windfall tax, said the U-turn showed the Conservative government was motivated by politics rather than a desire to help people.

“Labour called for a windfall tax because it is the right thing to do, the Conservatives are doing it because they needed a new headline,” Labour’s economic policy chief Rachel Reeves said.

Inflation reached a 40-year peak of 9 per cent in April and is projected to rise further while government forecasts last month showed living standards were set to register their biggest fall since records began in the late 1950s.

“The high inflation we are experiencing now is causing acute distress for people in this country. I know they are worried, I know people are struggling,” Sunak said, backing the Bank of England to use interest rates to bring the situation under control.

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